Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Global leadership practices for local bosses

While the demand for leadership skill talent has been strong following the rapid growth in Asia in recent years, the supply pipeline has not been able to keep up. Asian companies that want to grow their business globally will require managerial talent with global business skills, whereas MNCs that want to grow their Asian businesses require talent that can operate effectively in the region. These present a unique set of leadership and human capital challenges.

The first chapter, by Prof Ulrich’s book - Leadership in Asia: Challenges and Opportunities, provides a contextual basis on which leadership is explored in the book. He is careful to point out that Asia cannot be seen as a single entity, where the same formula of doing things will work across all industries, cultures and levels - rather, this is a continent that is 'an amalgamation of countries, companies, cultures and contexts'. Given that they differ in terms of cultural heritage, political systems and population demographics, among various aspects, no single Asian view of leadership can be applied across the region.

Prof Ulrich's definition of leadership is not only 'the individual or executive team at the top of the organisation'; 'anyone who is charged with getting work done by guiding the behaviour of others would be considered a leader'. In other words, a 'leader' is not just the CEO or his inner circle of senior executives, but also the people behind new products, heads of finance, information technology, human resources, etc.

The book has got valuable information for practitioners of leadership – by the collection of views from renowned figures from various backgrounds and industries who have taken on leadership positions in the region.

Positive leadership and talent engagement are two factors that can help Asian firms ride out of the recession, according to Gerald Chan, country head and CEO of UBS Singapore. Positive leadership refers to 'the ability to lead oneself during times of crisis' while talent engagement refers to 'the ability to keep one's talents engaged, committed and resilient during difficult times'. UBS has also invested significantly in talent development. To train a growing number of relationship managers, a refurbished colonial-era bungalow nestled just off Bukit Timah Road is used to train and induct in the finer art of engaging and managing clients.

Liew Mun Leong, president and CEO of CapitaLand, the biggest property developer in South-east Asia, places great emphasis on grooming 'internationally experienced corporate leaders and a strong management bench'. He listed three reasons why Asian companies did not train or nurture enough CEOs.

First, they are 'late developers in the area of leadership development'. With the exception of Japan, Asian states were 'command' or 'protectionist' economies for a long time. This is why, he explained, they lag behind their Western counterparts in modernising managerial methods and corporate culture.

Second, management becomes hampered as most Asian companies (13 out of the 20 largest) are either family-owned or state-owned. As the top ranks in these companies are filled by family members or state-appointed managers, there is no real incentive to nurture employees for positions of leadership.

Finally, Asian managers working for multinational companies, despite their value and proven expertise in running Asian operations for international outfits, are hardly deemed to be potential occupants of corner offices in MNC headquarters.

Managing change, diversity

Liak Teng Lit, CEO of Alexandra Hospital, shared his experience on leadership at a time of major change. Alexandra, which was founded in the 1930s as a British military hospital, required a major upgrade. Plans were drawn up for a new hospital, to be located in northern Singapore. Mr Liak's team was asked to move and manage this new hospital - named the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, in honour of the $125 million donation made by the late banking tycoon's Khoo Foundation.

The key challenge : 'to transform the model of healthcare'. This means that the hospital's managers cannot 'simply repeat successful solutions of the past in addressing new challenges'.

With a team drawn from various public and private hospitals, people came from diverse backgrounds and had different personalities. This diversity served the leadership well, as 'we had numerous challenges to solve that required different perspectives'. But it also presented challenges, especially when it came to getting 'everyone to row in the same direction.

Thus, people were systematically inducted into the organisation through a mix of programmes conducted by the top leadership team personally, as opposed to the human resources department - so that everyone could better appreciate the organisational philosophy, strategy and approach.

In short, 'leadership is clearly more art than science. However, by bringing industry, consulting and academic thought leaders together, lessons can be learnt that can be adapted to many,' wrote Prof Ulrich.

Great Leadership do not command excellence, they build excellence. Excellence is "being all you can be" within the bounds of doing what is right for your organization. To reach excellence you must first be a leadership of good character. You must do everything you are supposed to do. Organizations will not achieve excellence by figuring out where it wants to go, then having leadership skill do whatever they have to in order to get the job done, and then hope their leaders acted with good character. This type of thinking is backwards. Pursuing excellence should not be confused with accomplishing a job or task.

Some traits a Good Leader must have before he could exercise his leadership skills

1. Honest - Display sincerityand integrity in all your actions. Deceptive and insincere behavior will not inspire trust.

2. Competent - Base your actions on knowledge, reason and moral reasons. Do not make decisions based on "childlike" and inexperience, emotional desires or feelings.

3. Forward-looking - Set goals and have a vision of the future. The vision must be owned throughout the organization. Effective leaders envision what they want and how to get it.
4. Inspiring - Display confidence in all that you do. By showing endurance in mental, physical, and spiritual stamina, you will inspire others to reach for new heights.

5. Intelligent - Read, study, and seek challenging assignments.

6. Broad-minded - Seek out diversity, think out-of-the-box.

7. Courageous - Have the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Display a confident calmness when under stress.

8. Straightforward - Use sound judgment to make a good decisions at the right time. Do not jump into conclusion and just by "hear say" from others. Do no pre-judge or make assumptions.

9. Imaginative - Show creativity by thinking of new and better goals, ideas, and solutions to problems. Be innovative!

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